Why Libertarians Need Objectivism



by Luke Setzer

A recent letter to the Libertarian Party (LP) News accused Ayn Rand of advocating a “soulless” philosophy called Objectivism.  This letter reflects the latest insult in a decades-long, hostile relationship between Objectivists and Libertarians.  The animosity originated in the 1960s with Ayn Rand’s exposure to self-styled “anarchist” Libertarians like Murray Rothbard and his associates.  Their open disregard for a proper intellectual basis for liberty, as well as their contradictory ideas about what liberty is, led Rand to condemn Libertarians as “hippies, who subordinate reason to whims, and substitute anarchism for capitalism.”

The question facing the Libertarian Party today is: Was Rand right?  Is the LP doomed to long-term failure for lack of a coherent argument for individual rights?  The answer is an unequivocal YES.

It is true that Libertarians assert the same political principle that Ayn Rand summed as the essence of her politics: no individual may initiate physical force against any other individual.  But this principle is neither an “axiom” nor a “self-evident truth”, despite arguments to the contrary in David Boaz’s book LIBERTARIANISM: A PRIMER and elsewhere.

Ayn Rand properly advocated a long chain of reasoning that led her from basic axioms of reality (existence, consciousness, identity), through the necessity of reason as the individual’s only means of survival, to the ethic of individual human life as an end in itself, to the inevitable conclusion that laissez-faire capitalism is the only moral social system.

Notice that this line of reasoning derives the “non-aggression” principle objectively.  It accepts that a “this-worldly” life is good, and that reason is the method of obtaining and keeping that good.  Each person must be left free to follow his own reasoning without interference from the government.

Is this chain of argument present anywhere in the LP literature?  Alas, it is completely absent.  Nowhere in either the LP Statement of Principles or the LP Platform is there offered an objective basis for why individuals should have the right to life, liberty or property.  Such rights are simply asserted without basis—a purely subjective argument for rights.

Subjective claims of “individual rights”, being baseless, stand no chance of winning over a culture already steeped in subjective, anti-individualist ideologies like racism, statism and radical environmentalism.  It should come as no surprise that outsiders humorously refer to Libertarians as “Republicans campaigning for prostitution”.  The concept of Libertarianism is that of doing whatever one pleases without interference from government.  For the average voter, this immediately conjures up images of wild pot parties, orgies and other largely destructive behaviors.  Omitted from the picture are heroic acts of rational achievement and productive success that generate all the benefits of our modern world.

The philosophy of Objectivism, far from being “soulless”, actually values the concept of “soul” very highly--so much, in fact, that Objectivists are unwilling to sell their souls at any price.  Because so many others are, they misconceive Objectivists as beings without souls.  Unlike virtually every religious and political leader today, Objectivists have the courage to stand up and say, out loud, “Altruism is wrong.  Self-sacrifice is a perversion.”

Even if Libertarians make a few incremental gains in politics, they are doomed long-term because of their utter absence of a rational, moral defense of individual rights.  Their success will collapse with the first breeze of public whim.  What our culture needs is a second Renaissance—a widely renewed respect for reason and earthly achievement.

Liberty is not license, and the vision of a nation filled with pimps, prostitutes, drug addicts and Don Juans will not inspire any sane person.  However, the vision of a world filled with rational, healthy, productive people who trade freely with others of similar character WILL.  Such refreshing characters, role models for us all, populate the pages of Ayn Rand’s magnificent novels and explain their continued strong sales decades after their first printings.

Some readers may doubt the effectiveness of Objectivism as a working philosophy for large organizations.  Look no further than the banking giant BB&T to remove all doubt.  That company has established Objectivism as its official corporate philosophy, and its success as an organization continues to grow.  Read all about it at http://www.bbandt.com/philosophy/.

If Objectivism is good enough to drive the success of a multi-billion dollar financial firm, should it not also be good enough to drive the success of a multi-million dollar political party?  Think about it.

In conclusion: The LP will sputter and fail without a rational basis for its arguments.  What the LP needs is to make a clean break with its checkered, subjective past and become reborn into a spotless, objective advocate for fully grounded individual liberty.  Objectivism offers a set of inspiring, fulfilling and spiritual principles: reality, reason, self-growth, laissez-faire capitalism and productive work as a spiritual activity.  If the LP wants to succeed and thrive as a viable political force, these principles need to become the explicit foundation of the LP’s message.