Was Ayn Rand Secretly a Statist?

Eddie Pensier writes:

John Humphreys of the Australian Libertarian Society starts a whopper of an argument on the ALS’ Facebook page:

There is an apparent contradiction at the heart of objectivism. Ayn Rand said that she opposed the initiation of coercion/violence, but she also rejected anarchism and insisted on having a government… which is defined as an institution that has a geographical monopoly over the initiation of violence/coercion. 

That doesn’t add up. Either objectivists accept a government and then they accept the initiation of some violence/coercion. Or they don’t want a government and are anarchists. Those options are mutually exclusive and collectively exhaustive… there is no other option. 

Given the vehemence of Rand’s opposition to anarchy, I had previously thought that objectivists accepted government and that they were confused about the whole coercion thing. But in a debate this evening it seemed that my objectivist sparing partner was inadvertently advocating for anarchy… but with the assumption that in anarchy, enough people would voluntarily give money to a security provider that would protect everybody. The idea is that this benevolent non-profit donor-funded security provider would be called “government”, despite not initiating violence or coercion. 

If this is accurate, then there are two consequences. First, semantics notwithstanding, a benevolent non-profit donor-funded security provider is totally consistent with anarchy, and so such a position is really just another type of hyphenated anarchy with a particular vision of how a free society might function. Second, it seems to me that the above approach to security provision is very reliant on the benevolence of one organisation and the people who will donate to that organisation… which means it is actually less stable than the system suggested by other market anarchists. 

What do you say objectivists… are you secret anarchists living in denial, or are you people who oppose coercion all the time except for when you don’t?

Do you agree with Humphreys’ point or do you, um, object?


About Eddie Pensier

Television junkie, opera buff, connoisseur of unhealthy foods, fashion watcher, art lover and admirer of beautiful people of all sexes.
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11 Responses to Was Ayn Rand Secretly a Statist?

  1. Toddy Cat says:

    Personally, I’d say that opposing coercion all the time is pretty much rank insanity, and if Objectivists are “people who oppose coercion all the time except for when {they} don’t?”, that’s one of the better things I’ve heard about them. Of course, I’m not either an Objectivist or a libertarian…


  2. I have a friend who worships Ayn Rand. She’ll finish “Atlas Shrugged” and immediately flip to the beginning to start it again. (Or maybe her favorite is “The Fountainhead”? I can never keep them straight.)

    A 1,000-page novel about political philosophy isn’t something I’ve ever managed to work up much enthusiasm towards.


  3. Toddy Cat says:

    Worshipping Ayn Rand is probably less harmful than worshipping Marx or Fanon, but that’s a pretty low bar to clear.


  4. Rand and Randians are often fascinating creatures. Love that Helen Mirren biopic about Rand, for instance, and I’ve watched a couple of docs about Ayn and her crowd that were wonderfully dramatic studies in psychology. And since the web opened up I’ve learned a lot I didn’t previously know about how much Rand has met to a lot of smart, quirky people. (Really: prior to 1995 or so I knew next to nothing about Ayn Rand and her crowd.) That said, the arguments Randians have with each other bewilder me. Did I miss something by not going thru an Ayn Rand phase of my own?


  5. epiminondas says:

    Dispersed power, good. Centralized power, bad.


  6. I think of all statist libertarians as anarchists who lack the courage of their convictions. (Full disclosure: I identify as a “gospel anarchist.” So in some sense I’m an anarcho-monarchist. Had a lot of fun with that concept in our Exordium (space opera).


  7. Toddy Cat says:

    Somebody once called me an “Anarcho-Fascist” so I can relate.


  8. Callowman says:

    a benevolent non-profit donor-funded security provider is totally consistent with anarchy

    Well, that’s settled, then.


  9. bblackmoor says:

    Really, really tired of people who use “libertarian” and “objectivist” interchangeably. Rand DESPISED libertarians. Say whatever you want about her: just leave libertarians out of it.


  10. Manhattan Mongoloid says:

    Perhaps Rand was thinking of the “night-watchman state”, which is a minimalist state and, as it happens, a long-standing concept of liberalism (possibly excepting the progressive/LINO US mutation). See wikipedia for more.


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